ORLANDO, Fla. — Leading up to the Russell Athletic Bowl, Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater batted back questions about whether the game would be his last in college.
If it was, he left plenty for the Cardinals to remember.
Bridgewater threw three touchdown passes and ran for another score to help No. 18 Louisville rout Miami 36-9 on Saturday night.
The Cardinals (12-1) spotted Miami (9-4) an early 2-0 lead, then dominated the rest of the way, racking up 554 total yards to the Hurricanes’ 174.
With Cardinals’ fans chanting “Teddy! Teddy!” at times throughout the game, Bridgewater, projected to be a top NFL draft pick if he comes out this summer, set a school season record with 31 touchdown passes. The Miami native also tied the school record with his 27th victory as Louisville’s starter.
“It meant a lot because not only because I and so many other guys going against our hometown school, but we were going against a quality opponent,” he said. “That’s what we’ve been waiting for all year…That’s why you play the game, to compete. We competed in all three phases, offense, defense and kicking game.”
He was 35 for 45 for career-high 447 yards.
Louisville won its second straight bowl game for its second 12-win season.
On the stage during the postgame trophy presentation Bridgewater, the game’s MVP, was showered again by Louisville fans who beckoned him with “One more year!” overtures.
He reiterated though, that he hadn’t set and decision-making timelines on deciding whether to submit his name for the NFL’s early entry deadline.
“As of now it’s not about me, it’s about this team,” Bridgewater said. “We want to celebrate tonight’s victory and each of us, whether it’s seniors or underclassmen — we all have decisions to make. But for tonight we wanted to focus on this game and get this game out of the way. Celebrate it and enjoy this moment.”
Louisville coach Charlie Strong said throughout the week that he was banking on his defense to help spark the Cardinals’ offense. It responded with one of its best efforts of the season.
Miami, playing in its first bowl game since 2010, hasn’t had a bowl victory since 2006, losing four straight. The Hurricanes were returning to the postseason following a two-year, self-imposed ban during an NCAA investigation.
They got on the scoreboard first with the safety. But was one of their few highlights.
Hurricanes coach Al Golden said despite the setback, they aren’t going to stray too far from the foundation they’ve been trying to build.
“We got beat in all three phases. There’s no excuses,” Golden said. “I’m going to evaluate the whole program, just like I do every year. It’s not going to be any different…We’re going to keep moving it forward. We’re going to be resolute in that and we’re not going to flinch with that.”
A big second quarter by the Cardinals, punctuated by Bridgewater’s two touchdown passes helped Louisville take a 22-2 lead.
The Cardinals settled for field goals early after struggling to convert on third downs inside Hurricanes’ territory. That coincided with one of Bridgewater’s top third-down targets — receiver DeVante Parker — going down on the Louisville’s second series of the night with an ankle injury.
But those fortunes changed quickly when Parker returned in the second quarter after getting his ankle attended to by the training staff.
He immediately caught three passes on a seven-play, 80-yard drive, including a capping 26-yard touchdown reception. Parker finished with nine catches for 142 yards.
Miami’s next possession appeared to have stalled near midfield, but an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty kept it going and eventually set up the Hurricanes with second-and-goal on the 5.
Stephen Morris dropped back to pass, but was grabbed and lost the ball as he was slung to the ground by Cardinals defensive end Marcus Smith. The loose ball was then recovered by Louisville’s Brandon Dunn to end the threat.
Louisville got it again with just under 2 minutes to play and drove 60 yards for another touchdown, scoring on Bridgewater’s 12-yard pass to Michael Harris.
Louisville coach Charlie Strong said he thinks his team sent a nice message to its future opponents as it joins the Atlantic Coast Conference next season.
“I’ve been saying this all season long and I still feel like this — we’re one of the best teams in college football,” Strong said. “When we go out and play the way we played tonight, you can understand why.”